What is the church?
What exactly is the NT church?
What should it be according to the Scriptures?
What should it look like?
How should it function?
What are its goals and what is its purpose?
Specifically, how should each one of us, as members of this church, function?
What are the roles and responsibilities of every member of a church?
Why even join a church membership in the first place?
A wise pastor friend of mine challenged me the other day, he asked me the question - “How are you going to keep your church focused on ministry during the building project?”
In other words how are we going to make sure that the new building does not become the ministry, or the function, or the purpose of our church.
Biblical, it is not the goal or function or purpose of the church to build buildings.
So, how are we going to keep our focus, keep our function, keep our mind on ministry, and at the same time build a building?
First we need to understand what a biblical NT church is.
And we need to measure ourselves by Scripture to see if we meet God’s standards.
How are we going to do that?
First we are going to begin to answer the question, “What is the church?” by looking at many different images or pictures of the NT church that we find in Scripture.
One Flock with One Shepherd- subjective unity, a common following of the shepherd
One New Humanity- objective unity, we all have a common ancestry (Jesus Christ), we all have a transcendent ethnicity / race (Christian)
Building that grows into a holy temple
A dwelling place for God
What is the next image or picture that Scripture presents to us, that better enables us to think about the church biblically?
In John 17 Jesus compares the unity of the church to the kind of unity enjoyed by God Himself in the trinity.
Jesus’ teaching in John 17 lays out several truths that must shape our thinking concerning our local church.
These are vital truths given to us by Jesus’ high priestly prayer concerning the unity of the church.
What are these truths?
The unity of the church is an organic living unity
The night before the crucifixion, Jesus spent an extended period of time teaching His disciples.
Apparently, Jesus began this instruction while they were in the upper room during the last supper, then he continued to teach as they left the room and walked toward Gethsemane.
Part of that teaching centered on an illustration of the vine and the branches.
We covered that already in a previous sermon.
Now, we are later on in Jesus’ instruction as He approaches Gethsemane.
Part of Jesus’ high priestly prayer.
How do we know know that the unity we enjoy in the church is organic or living?
A. The unity of the church is analogous to the unity of the trinity (vv.
So Jesus compares, He makes an analogy of the unity of the church to the unity that is enjoyed within the trinity.
Jesus considers the unity within the church to be similar to the unity in the trinity.
That means right from the beginning this unity is difficult to understand.
Because the trinity itself is difficult to understand.
How can three be one and one be three at the same time?
And the answer to that question is that we just cannot understand it.
Yet the Scripture tells us that God is three Persons, and yet that the three are one, one eternal substance, three Persons and yet not three Gods but one God.
There is only one true and living God, but that one eternal God exists as three separate and distinct Persons, and yet there is this perfect, marvellous, wonderful, mystical unity.
That is the kind of unity that Jesus is speaking about here.
B. The unity of the church is analogous to the unity of Christ and the believer (vv.
“That they all may be one” Goal / Purpose
“That they also may be one in us” Oneness/Unity is connected to the believer’s unity in Christ!
v. 22- That they may be ONE!
v. 23- “I in them” Our unity to each other, is like the unity that we all have in Christ.
This is the mystical union of all believers since the time of Pentecost until the time of the rapture that are added by the Spirit into one body of which Christ is the head.
It is a living organic unity that exists between Christ and the church.
And it is this kind of unity that is compared to the unity that as believers we share with each other.
C. Church unity is NOT external, mechanical, or organisational
The unity of Christian people among themselves is NOT external, mechanical, or organisational.
It cannot be, because the unity we enjoy is like the unity that the Father and the Son and the Spirit enjoy.
It is like the unity that believers enjoy IN CHRIST!
Remember this is part of Jesus’ high priestly prayer.
So it is the Father’s decision to answer His prayer.
If the Father answers the Son’s prayer then it is the Father that will provide unity.
Jesus is praying not just for his disciples, but for all believers in the church, past, present, and future.
Jesus prays for them all to be one.
This is NOT organizational unity.
This is no external or mechanical.
This has to refer to invisible, organic, living unity.
It is the unity of the Flock, not the Fold, and it is defined by faith.
Why does this even matter?
RCC- interpret this kind of unity that Jesus wants for His church as an external visible unity.
They come to the conclusion that there is only one church and that Jesus wants his church to be one and that the external visible RCC church is that ONE church.
But, you get into some dangerous conclusions if you misunderstand the unity that Jesus prays for here.
For instance, RCC theology teaches that if you are not part of the one true church, then you are not saved.
If you are not part of the ONE FLOCK then you are not one of Jesus’ sheep.
The only people who can be saved are the one’s who are part of the external, mechanical, organization church.
But, clearly, that is not the kind of unity that Jesus is praying for here!
Rather the unity that the church enjoys is living, it is invisible, it is living, it is spiritual.
Some have taken Jesus’ teaching on John 17 and have understood the unity that Jesus prays for as external, mechanical or organizational.
And they have come to the conclusion that the greatest hindrance to the oneness of the church is all the different denominations.
If we could just get rid of all the denominations and have one unified church.
One world church, of which every believer everywhere is a part.
They would argue something like this, “The greatest scandal in the world is a disunited church, and this scandal must be removed; it must also be removed because it is the greatest hindrance to evangelism.
It is the multiplicity of denominations that constitutes one of the greatest hindrances to men and women who are outside the church believing the gospel.
If we could only get rid of these denominations and have one great world, or ‘super’ church, then people would be ready to listen to the gospel and probably to accept it.”
This is called ecumenism.
And some people will turn to John 17 to promote this kind of a movement.
And they misunderstand the unity that Jesus is praying for.
It is not external, mechanical, or organizational.
It is living, organic, spiritual.
What is the danger in an ecumenical movement?
What is the danger in trying to create a world or super church?
Well, external unity becomes the only goal.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what people believe, as long as they are sincere we should accept them into the church in order to be one.
So what one believes about being a Christian doesn’t matter.
If someone believes that they need to add a works based system of righteousness to their salvation in order to be saved, it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if someone denies the deity of Christ, or justification by faith alone, that doesn’t matter- what really matters is that we all be ONE.
But it is an external, mechanical, organization unity that they argue for, and Jesus is not praying for anything like this.
The unity of the church is living it is organic it is spiritual.
It is like the unity of the Father and the Son and the Spirit.